Book Review: Fakes


For those who know me, this is my kind of book. Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts, a collection edited by David Shields and Matthew Vollmer, is all about taking a genre and twisting it all around in an attempt to make something new and interesting. I first saw this book on a store shelf in the Library of Congress, of all places, and then ordered it when I got home.

The fiction in this book — which begins with a disclaimer to the reader and ends with a  contributors’ note and index, all finely fraudulent  — runs the range of all sorts of official-looking documents — from Last Will and Testaments, to Works Cited, to complaint letters, to personal advertisements — that open up to the door for the writers to explore genre, break genre and be creative. In doing so, they open up the reader’s eyes to possibilities.

The most powerful piece in here, for me, is Kevin Wilson’s “The Dead Sister Handbook: A Guide for Sensitive Boys (Laconic Method to Near Misses)” — which broke my heart while pulling me down into the world of self-help guides for kids. A brother trying to comprehend his sister is the center of this piece and all the while, you can feel the slope getting steeper and steeper.

Not every piece is as strong as that one, but given the ways in which we have come to twist genres and styles of writing, and the way the Internet allows us to freely share our versions of writing, Fakes remains an intriguing look at some possibilities. For more daily variety, I suggest you check out McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, too. I get more laughs per post there in my RSS feed than anywhere else.

Peace (its not fake),


#Rhizo15: Annotating to Understand

Annotating Susan

One of the lines of inquiry this week for Rhizomatic Learning is about the subjective element of learning spaces. While Dave Cormier suggests we think about this in terms of designing a course, I can’t help but think about it as a learner in online communities, too. Unfortunately, I am grappling with the objective vs subjective ideas, so I am seeking out others in the Rhizo15 who are explaining it better than I can, in hopes they can explain it to me.

Of course, in doing so, I am letting their subjective experiences influence my subjective experiences. Not very objective of me, is it? But this is how I learn, from gathering ideas from others and trying to figure out my own line of truth. Or as close to an understanding as I can help to get.

Take Susan, for example. Her post this morning really was what I was looking for, in terms of teasing out the various terminology and allowing me to think about my own understanding. I ended up annotating her blog post in Diigo as a way to interact with her words and ideas.

My takeaways on this topic:

  • I never go into a course as a student with an objective outlook. I bring all of my experiences with me, and those experiences form my expectations. This can be good (I am open to whatever comes my way as long as I am engaged) and this can be bad (what do you mean, there is no plan for where we are going?) but I know that if a course/event does not work for me, I can pull out with no regrets (sorry, but the fedwiki project a few weeks ago did not work for me).
  • Note: if ever there was a course that is not a course, and the role of student that does not feel like a student, that would be Rhizomatic Learning. There is always the sense of, we’re all in this together. If you are used to a course having a clear syllabus, and course objectives laid out, this line of cloudy inquiry can be discomforting.
  • As a teacher, I realize how much the “objective” lesson planning expectation is baked into the language of our profession. I suspect this is from the data-driven culture, where learning must be reduced to numbers so that it can be converted into charts that can be shared in Powerpoints that an influence policy that trickles down like a ton of bricks to us classroom teachers. I am gathering my “evidence” of student learning for my principal and noting how much is boiled down into those outcomes. We lose the individual when we do this. I know that. Still, I fall in line. My artifact portfolio has graphs, and numbers, and data … and my students as learners and writers … they get lost in the mix. That’s where the objective inquiry fails miserably to the subjective, right?
  • I was glad that Susan brought the concept of “subversive” into the mix, and while her tone seems more negative than I would have put it, I see my own learning style as a subversive learner, as someone pushing at the edges and using humor and remixing and other non-traditional methods to find the heart of what I need to know, and maybe bring along a few collaborators as I go. I don’t consider this an act of disrespect … I see it as an act of independence.
  • I’m still struggling with the line of our inherent bias that we bring to the table and the concept of being subjective as a learner. Some friends on Twitter have provided me with some helpful insights. Certainly our biases shape our experiences, as both teacher and student. Sarah suggested that subjective goals are what we want out of an experience — we have agency over articulating our expectations — while bias is the shape of us (not her words here, mine).

So, yeah, more confusion than clarity, but I am OK with that. The more I read from others, like Susan, the more my own thinking expands. I like that.

Peace (in the think),

We Play Quidditch (What About You?)

So, today is our huge, massive, completely-nutty Quidditch Tournament at our school, where the four sixth grade classes square off against each other for an entire day of running, teamwork, running, throwing, running, cheering, running and well, running. There’s a lot of running in our game, which began with a group of students reading the first Harry Potter book years ago and asking, “Why don’t we make this game for us to play?”

They worked with our PE teacher to design rules of the game and this “literature in motion” has been a major event at our school for more than 12 years. Other classes come to watch the games during the course of the day (not a favorite event for many other teachers, I must admit.)

After the teams of sixth grade students play all day (with us homeroom teachers as coaches), then the students take on the staff at night (I am exhausted just thinking about it already) in a fun match in which the line of students seems never-ending and the line of teachers seems pretty small. Did I mention a lot of running?

See you on the field …

Peace (in the Quidditch Pitch),

A #Rhizo15 Song Takes Root (And We Find Our Way Through)


For the last few days, I’ve been collaborating on a song with some friends around the world as part of the pre-start of Rhizomatic Learning (the event officially starts to day). This is the messy and interesting story of how the song — We Find Our Way Through — came to be ….

It began, for me, with a tweet and then a blog post by Sarah, who wrote an intriguing piece about being fine with being private and then mentioned playing her ukulele. I know this goes completely against what she wrote about, but I suggested that if she ever wanted to take the plunge into the public, perhaps we could collaborate.

It turns out that Ron was already moving her in that direction, after reading the same blog post. So, I proposed, let’s try to see if we can collaborate on a song. I didn’t have a song at the time, but during the day, I sat down with my guitar and wrote a very simple song about the idea of community and rhizomatic learning, with the song itself being an example of the swirling, unknown nature of learning experiences.

rhizo15 Song Collaboration

I went back to a music site that I have tinkered with, Soundtrap, and recorded the rhythm guitar and vocals (first mistake: not recording separate tracks here. Lesson learned). I then invited Sarah and Ron into Soundtrap (and Ron and I even did a loop collaboration as a test), and sent out the lyrics and chords. I think Ron used his MIDI system to record a few tracks and Sarah may have recorded offline and then uploaded into Soundtrap. There are a few places here and there with the timing is off, but we all worked with what we had to work with.

Meanwhile, Jeff had seen a tweet in the #Rhizo15 stream and asked a question. I saw on his profile picture that he is playing a guitar … bingo … consider that an invitation. Jeff came in and added some background guitar and a few tasty licks.

Sarah then wondered, can we do background vocals? She asked me for the notes I was singing. Eh. I have no idea. I’m not that kind of a singer. Barely a singer at all. I sing to write songs. But Sarah kindly worked out a simple harmonic arrangement and Maha responded to a tweet for singers. Soundtrap did not work for Maha, so she recorded herself singing and then emailed me the file, which I loaded up and tried to sync as best as I could into the song (she has a lovely voice). Sarah also suggested that others sing the lead, but the mistake I made in the first track (unable to remove my voice and leave the guitar) made that idea difficult. My track is the glue that everything is built around, for good or bad.

It was while mixing Maha that I noticed my main track had gotten accidentally cut into, so there is now a glitch midway through. Dang. Nothing I can do about it, though. I had saved an earlier version in Soundtrap as a backup but even that one had the glitch. I probably did something at some time. Who knows. But, just as in Wreck-it Ralph, the Glitch is the thing that makes the game unique, I have convinced myself this morning that the glitch gives the song a reminder that anything rhizomatic is messy by nature, and rough around the edges. I almost believe it. Give me time.

I’m pretty proud of how We Find Our Way Through came out and even more proud of how the song emerged as a collaboration, given that we worked remotely from the United States, Scotland and Egypt in just a few days time. We found our way through. We may do a second version, giving other people a chance to sing the lead. I’d like that.

Peace (in the rhizomatic collaboration),

Rhizo15: Even When You Know What It Is, You Don’t Know What It Is

I was sharing Jabberwocky with my students last week. They are sixth graders and most had never heard nor read the poem, although a few remembered the name a bit from the last Alice in Wonderland movie (with Johnny Depp). After I read the poem, and then get students to read the poem, and after we talk about it from the writing and narrative stance, I show them The Muppets version.

What stuck with me was the line that Scooter says at the start, along the lines of “Even when you know what it is, you don’t know what it is ” as the Rhizomatic Learning event kicks off this week, and lots of folks are wondering about syllabus and stuff. Dave Cormier sent out a nice note this week, saying that the questions and uncertainty are what will drive the activities.

Thus, a remix of the Muppets for Rhizo15:

Feel free to remix the video yourself. See that remix button. Click it. See what happens. Go forth into the unknown and be creative. Make something new.

Peace (in the share),

Book Review: Danger is Everywhere

Danger is Everywhere: A Handbook for Avoiding Danger is a nice satirical antidote to the wave of adventure books for boys and girls now flooding the market. Writer David O’Doherty and illustrator Chris Judge bring a hilarious view to the world of dangers all around us, using their foil — Docter Noel Zone — and his observation that everything is out to get you to give helpful “advice” on staying alive in a dangerous world.

I had this book recommended by a student, who told me “I have to read this. Your life depends upon it.” Oh, how right she was …

Don’t believe me?

How about now?


From the Page 9 Scorpion, to the Polar Bear Attack, to the Toilet Shark, to the Mailbox Octopus and beyond … well, you get the picture (and speaking of pictures, the illustrations here are very funny). The good docter (yes, he put an “e” in there to show he is not a real doctor) is on the case, even as he touts the eating and use of cabbage and investigates the theft of a garden gnome (Mr. Chomsky … inside linguistic joke?) from a neighbor he has a crush on.

By the end of this lighthearted help book, you will emerge as an official Dangerologist. Not that it will do much good when the Mailbox Octopus or the Piano Walrus come for you …

Peace (in the fun),


Confusion Before Clarity: Rhizomatic Learning

Into Rhizomatic Waters -- uncharted lands

Last year, I was lucky enough to make the leap into Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning project. I would not call it a MOOC. It was more a gathering of folks exploring this concept of the swirling, interconnected nature of learning experiences. Dave didn’t really provide much in the way of a curriculum. Instead, he challenged our thinking. He acted as a provocateur. His idea was “the community is the curriculum.”

Needless to say, it was intriguing and refreshingly unlike any other gathering or course I have been involved in, and many of the folks in that Rhizo14 have remained solid and strong and constant in my network of educators and thinkers for the past year.

And now Rhizomatic Learning is gearing up for 2015. I’m back in the mix, still wondering what the term “rhizomatic learning” really means and indicates, and how to make sense of something that is fairly slippery on the surface. I’d have a hard time if you and I were having coffee, and you asked, “So, this Rhizo thing, what’s that all about?”

My best bet would be, for me, it’s the confusion before the clarity. It’s an acknowledgement that not every learning experience has a linear path of understanding, and the realization that it may take you longer than you thought to get to the point of clarity. The idea of the rhizome is rooted in the belief that we need to be active in our engagement in the world, and be open to the experiences and expertise and influence of others. That we are not alone in our learning, even though we all must venture on the journey of discovery on our own.

Or at least, that’s my interpretation of it. Yours may be different.

Rhizomatic Learning, for me, in fact, still has many contradictions and many gray areas. I like that because — in some strange meta-way — it means my learning about Rhizomatic Learning is Rhizomatic Learning.

As a teacher, this whole adventure is helping me understand those students who struggle with deep concepts, who need to come in to an idea from odd angles, who may not be where I want them be when they leave me …. and yet, I still have the faith they will get there, eventually.


So, even Dave Cormier checks the oil on the rhizome, I am diving in, and playing around with the concepts. If I have learned one thing from the CLMOOC facilitation team, it is that the energy at the start — and the sense of creativity of a community or network — that defines an experience. Thus, I’ve been making memes, collaborating in music, and welcoming folks in the #rhizo15 Twitter hashtag.


And so it begins ..


Peace (in the twists and the turns),